It is that time of year when thousands escape to Mexico for Spring Break, but for 13 USA Shooting athletes there will be a lot more work than play taking place beginning Sunday as the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) World Cup season begins anew in Acapulco, Mexico with a shotgun only event March 17-23.

Athletes and sport officials have anxiously awaited this moment since instituting monumental rule changes adopted by the ISSF after the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Over 160 athletes from 27 countries will meet in this vacation mecca to get the shooting calendar underway and to ultimately determine who will stand out under the new rules. Several Olympic champions are among the participants making their way to Mexico including two-time Olympic gold medalist Vincent Hancock (Eatonton, Ga.) and women’s trap gold medalist Jessica Rossi of Italy.

The new ISSF rule changes have brought about the most extensive set of modifications in the sports history while implementing a completely new Finals format. After the qualification rounds, which are conducted under the old rules, the top-six shooters advance to a semifinal-a new competition stage. The qualification score is not carried forward as all the semifinalists start from zero.

Semifinalists will compete on a reduced number of stations and targets. After the semifinals, the top two advance to the gold medal match, dueling for the highest step of the podium. On the other side, the third and fourth ranked semifinalists enter the bronze medal match, fighting for third position.

Specifically, the Trap event will have semifinalists and medal-match contenders competing on stations 2-4, for a total of 15 targets. The same applies to Double Trap, on 15 doubles (30 targets). Skeet semi-finalists and finalists will compete on stations 3, 4, 5 and then back to 4, shooting a double and a reverse double at each station, for a total of 16 targets.

The new rules push even greater drama on the final stages. The ISSF feels that the changes make medal decisions easier to understand, thus enhancing the viewing excitement for both spectators and TV audience.

The USA Shooting Shotgun Team, under the direction of National Team Head Coach Todd Graves have spent the fall and winter extensively preparing for this moment and are ready to put their training to the test.

“We’ve actively prepared our athletes to be able to perform at their very best starting with Acapulco,” said Graves. “But there’s still a lot of unknown in terms of how the new finals format will proceed in an actual competition. Our shooters will have to make adjustments accordingly and this will give us the evidence we need to adapt training regimens and mindsets if necessary. At the end of the day, the game remains the same and if you break more targets than your opponent from beginning to end, you’re going to win.”

USA Shooting athletes have attended preparatory and developmental training camps in Puerto Rico, Mexico and Ft. Benning since December. The camps focused on skill development with an introduction to the new shooting rules, all in warm-weather training environments. Coaching instruction was provided by Graves and Assistant National Team coaches Dwayne Weger, Jay Waldron and Tommy Lynn Browning.

Acapulco kicks-off the first of four ISSF Shotgun World Cups for 2013. The second World Cup of the season will require travel over to the United Arab Emirates, April 16-25. Each of the season’s first two World Cups will feature one of the top-two finishers from the Fall Selection Match plus one of the top-two finishers from the junior division in that competition. Graves is looking at 2013 to develop young shooters and give them opportunities to compete on a World stage early in the quad in order to instill international experience in a talented group of junior shooters.

Hancock headlines a team composed of elite National Team members and an intriguing mix of up-and-coming talent that rose to the occasion during USA Shooting’s Fall Selection Match last October. Hancock’s skeet-shooting teammates include Jon Michael McGrath (Tulsa, Okla.), who was in an intense three-way battle for the second Olympic Team spot eventually won by Frank Thompson (Alliance, Neb.) in a shoot-off last Spring in Tucson, Ariz. With five-time Olympic medalist Kim Rhode (El Monte, Calif.) sitting out the spring shooting events awaiting the birth of her first child, room was available for the re-introduction of Haley Dunn (Muenster, Texas) and Jaiden Grinnell (Port Angeles, Wash.). Dunn, the 2001 Junior World Champion, dominated the Fall Selection but hasn’t competed at a World level since 2012. Grinnell re-emerged onto the USA Shooting National Team in convincing style after winning the 2012 National Championships by setting national records for combined (qualifying + final) with a 269 and a qualifying score of 245. Rhode had held those records with a 267 and 242 previously.

“I’m very excited to be a part of the kick-off World Cup for the new quad and look forward to shooting the new round and finals sequence,” said Grinnell. “Old habits die hard in regards to walking from station 7 back to 4 for the pairs but my coach, Matt Dryke [1984 Olympic gold medalist], has made for an easy transition. I feel prepared, but mostly excited to get the competition season going.”

In Double Trap, Billy Crawford (Johnstown, Ohio) won both the National Championships and Fall Selection Match to earn his invitation to Acapulco. The 19-year-old Crawford beat out three Olympians including Josh Richmond (Hillsgrove, Pa.), Glenn Eller (Katy, Texas) and Jeff Holguin (Yorba Linda, Calif.) in Colorado last summer. Joining Crawford are Ian Rupert (Muncy, Pa.) and Kelcey DePatis (Donovan, Ill.).

“It’s very exciting to be able to compete at the first World Cup of the season,” said Crawford. “We all have a new game and new rules to learn in doubles trap. Luckily I have been able to do some training in Ft. Benning, with Bud Greevy at North Mountain, and at my home range the last few weeks. I’m feeling confident that I will adapt to the new game, and can’t wait to compete for the first time in Acapulco.”

Getting things underway first in Mexico will be Trap National Champions Brian Burrows (Fallbrook, Calif.) and Rachael Heiden (Clinton, Mich.) along with four other trap specialists. By winning the national title and Fall Selection match in 2012, Burrows is at the head of the class currently among all U.S. trap competitors. Heiden, meanwhile, has won two of the last three national titles in her event. These two shooters will be joined by Olympic Training Center resident athletes Collin Wietfeldt (Hemlock, Mich.) and Dakotah Richardson (Godley, Texas) along with Ashley Carroll (Solvang, Calif.) and Miranda Wilder (Diana, Texas).

“There have been a lot of changes both with USA Shooting as well as my own life and training,” said Burrows. “Moving out of the training center [as a resident athlete] and back to San Diego, I have had to train in various locations including Los Angeles, Sacramento, Ft. Benning and Tucson. I think that this will allow me to more easily adapt to the various differences between ranges around the world. Working up to this World Cup, I have been training hard and I can’t wait to get down there and start the competition. These new rules have changed the game a bit, but coach Graves has provided us with training camps to prepare us. What it comes down to is hitting one target at a time, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to transition. ”

“The athletes participating in the first two World Cups earned their right by performing under pressure last fall,” Graves stated. “I feel it’s important to begin establishing depth in all our ranks which is the reason we’re inviting the top junior shooters to the team as well. After Spring Selection, there might be a whole different crop of shooters but we’re going to be better down the road by the participation of so many young, up-and-coming shooters early in 2013.”

The final two World Cups on the ISSF calendar includes Nicosia, Cyprus in June before closing out the World Cup Series with a July visit to Granada, Spain, site of the 2014 ISSF World Shooting Championships. That Granada World Cup will have the shotgun squad meeting up with their rifle and pistol teammates in the only combined World Cup competition on the ISSF calendar in 2013. The shooting calendar also includes Fall and Spring National Selection matches, the USA Shooting National Championships, the World Clay Target Championships (Sept. 14-25, Lima, Peru) and the World Cup Finals in October.

The first ISSF World Cup for Rifle and Pistol will take place April 2-10 in Changwon, South Korea.

USA Shooting Team – Acapulco World Cup (March 17-23)

Trap (Men, March 17-18; Women, March 17)

Brian Burrows (Fallbrook, Calif.)
Collin Wietfeldt(Hemlock, Mich.)
Dakotah Richardson (Godley, Texas)
Ashley Carroll (Solvang, Calif.)
Rachael Heiden (Clinton, Mich.)
Miranda Wilder (Diana, Texas)

Double Trap (March 20)

Billy Crawford (Johnstown, Ohio)
Ian Rupert (Muncy, Pa.)
Kelcey DePatis (Donovan, Ill.)

Skeet (Men, March 22-23; Women, March 22)

Vincent Hancock (Eatonton, Ga.)
Jon Michael McGrath (Tulsa, Okla.)
Haley Dunn (Muenster, Texas)
Jaiden Grinnell (Port Angeles, Wash.)

Images courtesy USA Shooting

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